Serbia’s defense sector and armed forces: reform lags

The Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies in Belgrade


The Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) believes that the euphoric manner in which the Ministry of Defense and the top government present the achievements of the reform in the Serbian Army and the defense system is not appropriate for the actual state of facts, given the tardiness of the process of establishing democratic control over the Army, security and intelligence services, but first of all mindful of the numerous, still unexplained, violent deaths of Army members and the role of the Army in those accidents and in concealing evidence of MoD’s responsibility for deaths of RTS employees during the NATO air campaign. The intensive announcements of our units’ participation in UN and EU “peacekeeping” missions are imprecise or intentionally incomplete. The persistent emphasis on successful export of ammunition industry products and its almost exclusive association to the Ministry of Defense does not make much sense if it remains unknown which state institutions are by law  responsible for its operations, whether the earned profits are included in the budget and how they are distributed, and which security and foreign policy repercussions for Serbia may result from such export.

CEAS expresses its bewilderment at the media’s indifference to asking the competent authorities questions about these matters, at least on the occasion of the Armed Forces Day if not in the huge number of interviews with the Minister of Defense and Chief of the General Staff of the Military, which interviews rather resemble public announcements. Unfortunately, the same silence comes from the political parties which argue for radical changes in Serbia. CEAS finds that the establishment of full democratic and civil control and profound personnel changes in the Army and its services are the prerequisite for radical changes in Serbia, instead of personal and immaterialized verbal political preferences of particular actors in the political life.

CEAS reminds that establishment of professional army is in itself insufficient unless adequate personnel changes are simultaneously carried out among the officers, due to undisputable criminal heritage from the 90’s wars. The only way to replace the compromised personnel so far has been their promotion to retirement or declaration of surplus personnel, which demonstrates the incapacity of civil over military bodies over Army staff, intelligence and security structures, in fact the absence of democratic control. The civil bodies themselves have failed to impeach nearly anybody in the Serbian Army for criminal and professional responsibility on account of a series of evident faults and crimes committed in warfare and peacetime conditions. The extorted delivery of military personnel to the Hague Tribunal and trials for war crimes at the national courts, on which the top government has no clear opinion, thus remain the only essentially reforming moves in the Serbian Army.

CEAS remarks that it has taken the Serbian Government several years to finally, without any reactions from professional and broader public, appoint the general inspector who is supposed to monitor the work of intelligence and security agencies, although it was obliged to do so a long time ago, further to the laws on Military Security Agency and Military Information Agency. This also indicates to the absence of democratic control, which must be the ultimate goal of all reforms in the defense and security system. The very selection of the relatively anonymous and incompetent for monitoring issues Bozidar Banovic, for the position of general inspector, leads to the conclusion that this move is made to meet the form but not the essence.

The absence of democratic control over the Army and its services and lack of coordination in operations of competent agencies have been recently and finally addressed by the War Crimes Prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic and the Deputy Prime Minister for EU Integration Bozidar Djelic, in the context of the government’s inability to locate and arrest Ratko Mladic. Unfortunately, their statements have not been worth any comments of competent persons in the Army, Ministry of Defense, or members of the Serbian Assembly’s Defense and Security Committee which, obviously for political reasons, fails to exercise the authorities given to it.

CEAS once again reminds of the still unexplained series of violent deaths of soldiers, who died during the regular military service in peacetime conditions. They are all characterized by a number of controversies and obstructions in the course of investigation and by the fact that no one has borne professional or criminal responsibility for the soldiers’ deaths yet. The recorded and proved faults of legislative bodies in these cases indicate that they do not act independently, abiding by the law, but instead under the pressure of military structures which cover up their faults. As far as CEAS is aware, in case of death of the soldier Srdjan Ivanovic, who used to drive the then deputy chief of General Staff of Serbian Army Mladen Cirkovic and Ratko Mladic in the summer of 2005, before he violently died on the last day of his military service, the District and later on the High State Prosecutor’s Office in Leskovac addressed for four times the competent investigative judge with the demand to undertake additional investigative activities, among other hearing of the officer of Serbian Army Dragan Djordjevic from Leskovac, who was the last to see Ivanovic. The competent investigative judge and the court chamber rejected all those requests, although the Law on Criminal Procedure binds them to undertake some of the proposed investigative actions. In case of Radoman Zarkovic, who has more than twenty wounds on his body, which were impossible to be self-inflicted, and for whom the military bodies claim that he committed suicide, the investigative actions are allegedly carried out before the bodies in Nis without any reasoning as to how and why would that be possible, since the case must fall within the jurisdiction of military and even court bodies in Leskovac. In none of the mentioned cases, the same as in the Topcider case, has there been any progress for several years.

CEAS welcomes the decision to send the Serbian Army members to the EU and UN military and civil missions, but considers it irresponsible to insist on their “peacekeeping” character both in formal and essential terms. The UN mission members in Haiti, for example, lost their lives in rebellions. Members of EU missions in the Mediterranean and in Somalia are not only in peacekeeping missions but also in missions for establishment of peace, which have the mandate to use force. The Petersburg tasks, which are the basis of mission operations within the EU Common Security and Defence  Policy (EU CSDP), implying armed operations, and the new “solidarity clause” defined by the EU Lisbon Treaty, are not at all discussed in Serbian professional public. The Serbian Minister of Defense, Dragan Sutanovac, in his numerous interviews, has never referred to or been asked about these matters.

CEAS reminds that also the EULEX mission in Kosovo, the mandates of which the Serbian Government disputes in many domains and now believes that EULEX should not deal with investigation on organ trafficking, is a mission of the EU Common Security and Defence Policy. At the same time, Serbia and, more than anyone, the Minister Sutanovac, boasts with its intention to become a “full member” of that policy, without explanation of the precise meaning, announcing also the signing of the Security Treaty with the EU. Anyway, the state of Serbia has announced in the National Security Strategy (NSS), adopted by the Assembly, that it undertakes the “obligations” resulting from EU CSDP. CEAS believes that, regardless of whether this concerns the recruited or the professional soldiers, they themselves and the public have the right to know more details about the state’s intentions regarding the use of the Army.

CEAS uses the occasion of the Armed Forces Day to ask the Serbian Government what the “unreserved assistance of MoD to the defense industry” actually means, as the Minister Sutanovac boasts with it? Who, according to the law, rules the operation of ammunition industry, the export of its products, the conditions of work in its factories and where do the alleged huge amounts of money from revived military industry of Serbia end up? Does the state of Serbia, which has established, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, strong non-aligned amicable and strategic liaisons with regimes now fought by the Arabian world but also with those which still manage to suffocate the people, such as Libya, supply weapons and ammunition, by mediation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to such regimes?

Given the fact that Serbia has exported to the official Iraqi armed forces the military equipment at the value of USD 300m, CEAS finds it necessary to have clearer awareness of the fact that the highest level of violence in Iraq is currently the intra-Iraqi violence. Official forces, armed by Serbia, among others, bloodily fight the strong forces which oppose their liaison with the USA. They are at least connected to Al-Qaeda which acts globally. In such circumstances, there are grounds for more courageous public questions as to whether Serbia should become a member of a collective defense system, and not only to boast with the achievements of export to controversial regimes and friendly relationships with NATO, which has no obligation to assist and react in case of an attack, underlining the commitment to the decision on military neutrality, which is anyway discredited by the mentioned intention to accept the obligations from EU CSDP in NSS. Coordination of operations of particular ministries towards higher security of Serbia and less embarrassment at the international arena, as well as harmonization of national binding documents which are also shamefully discrepant, would have to be one of the priorities in reconstruction of the Serbian Government.

CEAS believes that the commendations arriving from international community for the Serbian Army and Ministry of Defense primarily serve their own interests in establishment of cooperation and transformation in terms of interoperability, which can help them in the battles they fight. Such interests, starting with terrorist attacks on the USA, as well as the circumstances deriving from absence of common attitude of EU members about the Kosovo status, overrule those which would require and support establishment of democratic control and implementation of transitional justice before anything else. This is, in good part, the reason for such a disturbing state of facts in Serbia 2011.

Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies, 13 February 2011

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